SINGAPORE - A 43-year-old pet grooming school owner was on Friday (Sept 23) sentenced to six weeks' jail for abandoning 18 pedigree dogs - many of which had been used for breeding puppies.
The dogs were scattered islandwide in various places - such as an industrial park in Yishun, and in Tampines, Sengkang and Upper Serangoon - in March, after Low Chong Kiat was told by the authorities that he could not keep the 30 dogs in his shop following noise complaints from neighbouring establishments.
Low is the first person to be prosecuted for abandoning animals under the Animals and Birds Act.
He was also fined $65,700 - for keeping 28 of the dogs without a licence; failing to ensure that two dogs were protected from injury and disease; and keeping the 30 dogs in a place that is not a dog farm without permission from the authorities.
If he is unable to pay the fine, Low, who pleaded guilty to 15 out of 49 charges under the Animals and Birds Act, will have to spend another six months and six weeks in jail.
In sentencing him, District Judge Low Wee Ping agreed with the prosecution's call for a deterrent sentence.
The judge said: "An indication of how civilised a society is is the way we treat our animals."
The 30 dogs were later examined by a vet and 28 were found to be relatively healthy. Many of the female dogs showed signs of being previously pregnant.
However, one of the dogs, an unsterilised female shih tzu, was found with dental issues, skin problems and corneal damage in its right eye. It had to be treated for scabies, ringworms and ehrlichiosis - a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks.
Another dog, an unsterilised female maltese, was found without teeth and with a broken lower jaw.
Low is the owner of Prestige Grooming Academy. He started the school in 2009 and later moved it into rented premises in Lim Chu Kang, the court heard.
The school operated under the name of a pet shop he had owned since 2001 - Marine Pet Image - which was licenced to sell puppies.
Low also started a pet boarding and breeding business at the same location. He took in dogs left on the streets or on his doorstep.
In 2010, a few of Low's dogs died of old age and he cancelled his group dog licence. But he did not apply for individual licences for the remaining dogs. He also took in more dogs, and ended up with 30 of them.
He continued housing and breeding the dogs in Lim Chu Kang, selling the puppies off at his pet shop in at Block 925 Yishun Central.
In 2012, he moved his grooming business to Chun Tin Road.
Last year, due to escalating business costs, Low closed his breeding business at Lim Chu Kang as well as his pet shop. He moved his 25 remaining dogs to Chun Tin Road, but later took in five more dogs there.
He kept the dogs at the basement of 51 Chun Tin Road and they were used by Prestige Grooming Academy's students.
But Low did not have a dog boarding licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). And Prestige Grooming Academy was not a dog farm, and was therefore not allowed to keep more than three dogs without permission from the AVA.
In early March, the Urban Redevelopment Authority sent Low a letter telling him that he was not allowed to keep dogs overnight at the Chun Tin Road premises. So he abandoned 18 dogs, mostly poodles, poodle crosses and malteses, over two days on March 23 and March 24.
On March 23, AVA got a tip-off from a caller, who said she saw someone abandoning three dogs at Yishun Industrial Estate. Later that day, information about someone abandoning dogs also circulated on social media.
That same day, animal welfare groups rescued six dogs. Voices for Animals found three dogs, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) rescued two dogs, and the Animal Lovers League found another dog.
The next day, SPCA rescued six dogs, Voices for Animals found five dogs and an independent rescuer found one dog.
On March 25, Low realised that someone had taken videos and pictures of him in the act of abandoning some of his dogs and put the evidence up on social media. He reached out to Voices for Animals president Derrick Tan and handed over the remaining 12 dogs to him for adoption.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Bagchi Anamika pointed out that the abandoned dogs were all pedigrees which had been used for commercial purposes.
She said: "These pedigree dogs were callously abandoned once (Low) realised that he fell foul of the law in keeping that many dogs .... like-minded persons must be deterred from such irresponsible and reprehensible behaviour.
"A stiff sentence is necessary to deter other breeders and pet business owners from following suit ... and resorting to callous abandonment of the pets without a thought for their survival or well being."
In mitigation, Low, who did not have a lawyer, said he ran a small business and could not afford to pay a hefty fine or go to jail.
The judge granted his request to defer his sentence until Oct 21.
Low could have been fined $40,000 and jailed for two years for each charge of abandonment and failing to ensure that the dogs were protected from and rapidly diagnosed of injury or disease.
The maximum punishment for keeping dogs over three months of age without a licence, and for keeping more than three dogs in a place which is not a dog farm without AVA permission, is a $5,000 fine.
Correction note: In an earlier version of the story, we said that Low did not have a dog boarding licence from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). This is incorrect. URA has clarified that dog boarding licences are issued by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). URA grants approval for the use of a premise as a pet shop.